In four of the five states, policies for TANF relative caregiver cases are developed by the same people that develop polices for the state's TANF program. In these four states, the relative caregiver cases are processed almost exactly the same as a TANF case headed by one or both parents of the children. The intake processes for relative caregiver cases in these four states are very similar. Income maintenance workers determine eligibility. In the fifth state, Wisconsin, child welfare staff develop the policies and procedures for relative caregiver cases. As a result, the procedures for handling a kinship care TANF case are similar to those for child welfare cases. Staffing assignments in Wisconsin are delegated to individual counties. In some counties, these relative caregiver cases are handled by a protective services social worker. In others, the cases are handled by Wisconsin Works (W2) income maintenance staff.
While procedures in Louisiana are similar to those in the three other states where relative caregiver policies are developed by the state's TANF policy unit, there are some slight differences. These differences are due to the fact that there are two separate TANF grant programs: one specifically for relatives who are taking care of children, and the other for families. Both programs are handled by parish income maintenance staff. The Kinship Care Subsidy Program (KCSP) is designed for kinship care cases. The KCSP payments are substantially higher than those for the Family Independence Temporary Assistance Program (FITAP), as shown in Table 4-4. This is particularly true when the relative cares for more than one child. To be eligible for KCSP, the relative caregiver must have some form of custody for the child. The relative can receive a KCSP for one year while he or she seeks to obtain custody. If the relative has not obtained custody within 12 months, the KCSP case is closed. In addition to custody, the relative caregiver's household income must be below 150 percent of the poverty level.
FITAP, the state's standard TANF program, provides assistances to families and includes an employment and training component. The lines between these two programs are flexible, and there are instances when a relative caregiver may choose to apply for FITAP instead of KCSP. In addition to caregivers who do not wish to pursue custody, or whose income is over the eligibility limit for KCSP, caregivers may choose FITAP for its employment and training benefits. Under FITAP, relative caregivers can also choose to be included in the grant. If caregivers are able bodied and not elderly, they are required to participate in the state's Strategies to Empower Program (STEP) for employment, but will be eligible for Medicaid coverage for themselves.
The eligibility processes in the three other states where the polices for relative caregiver cases are developed by the state's TANF unit Maryland, Oklahoma, and Washington are very similar. In these states, the relative caregivers are interviewed by income maintenance staff. Frequently, these cases are given priority processing. In Washington, these cases are seen the day they come to the office as opposed to regular TANF cases that are scheduled for a follow-up interview. In some counties in Maryland, relatives can make appointments for interviews ahead of time. In other counties, they are seen on a first come, first served basis.
The State of Wisconsin manages relative child-only cases through child protective services. This program is similar to a jointly funded kinship care program in that only relative caregiver child-only cases are managed though the child protective services system. The only financial requirement for relative caregivers to receive a kinship care payment in Wisconsin is that the child does not receive SSI. Additionally, to receive kinship care, a determination needs to be made that a child is in need of protective services (CHIPS) or that the child is at risk of needing protective services. Kinship care intake workers make this determination when relatives apply for child-only TANF assistance. As part of the eligibility process, the kinship case worker conducts a background check on the relative caregiver, conducts a home study, and confirms that parental permission for the arrangement has been documented. For children in the child welfare system, the need for protective services is established by court order. For children outside the child welfare system, the determination of "at risk for protective services" is established as part of the kinship care intake worker's assessment. Parental child-only cases are maintained and managed within the TANF system.
In Wisconsin, unlike other states, funding for the kinship care program is based on a biennial allocation of funds, which are allocated across counties. Counties are responsible for month-to-month budgeting. At the state level, county kinship care expenditures are monitored on an ongoing basis, and may be re-allocated to balance shortfalls and surpluses among counties. Since there is no guarantee to counties that additional funds will be available, some counties establish wait lists of kinship care cases, while others use county funds to cover any shortfall in state kinship care funding. Counties are required to fund all court-ordered kinship care referrals.
Eligibility criteria for relative caretakers vary among the states. In Wisconsin, a person can be related through marriage, blood, or adoption. Louisiana uses a fifth degree of consanguinity rule, which includes great, great grandparents, aunts, uncles, and up to once-removed cousins. This relationship can include biological or adoptive relatives. Maryland also allows biological or adoptive relatives to apply. A grandmother in Maryland reported that she takes care of her two grandchildren plus a step-grandchild who is the son of her son's girlfriend and another man. She receives a Temporary Cash Assistance (TCA) child-only grant for her two grandchildren but nothing for the step-grandchild. She said she chose to take care of the step-grandchild without a TCA grant because she wanted to keep the family together and did not want the step-grandchild to enter the foster care system. If the woman had been living in Louisiana (and had appropriate custody for the two grandchildren), she could have applied for KCSP payments for the two grandchildren and a FITAP grant for the step-grandchild.
In all states, relatives are informed that they must cooperate with the child support enforcement agency for their application to be approved. All five states allow for exemptions from cooperation with child support for "good cause" reasons, such as the possibility of domestic violence or a threat to the child if child support is pursued. Workers in all states acknowledged that cooperation with child support could be a barrier but that most relatives were willing to comply. As one worker in Louisiana said, "most grandparents are upset that they have to take the kids...[they say] 'Good luck in trying to find them and getting anything from them.'"
However, several workers provided anecdotal support that child support could be a barrier to pursuing kinship care. One worker said she had heard that some parents threatened to take back the child if child support payments were pursued. Another said, "Grandparents have withdrawn applications because of child support enforcement. Parents can say 'Don't go after support' and grandparents don't do it because they don't want kids causing problems."
A worker in Wisconsin reported that child support can be an issue during both initial applications and recertifications. "I would estimate that about 20 percent of my home studies drop out of the application process because of this [the child support] requirement. I have not had any parents pull children out of relative placement [after the case is initially approved] because of this requirement, but they will on the annual review say 'No, I don't think my child needs to be in relative placement anymore' and then they will refuse to sign the voluntary placement agreement." She estimated that this occurs in about 5 percent of her recertifications.
Relative caregivers may have other reasons for finding it difficult to cooperate with child support enforcement. Some grandparents may not know who the father of their grandchild is, or may be reluctant to discuss their children's complicated relationship histories.